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Study: Elaine Scarry on "Pain and Imagining"


Just finished reviewing my notes:  this is definitely on!  It will be worth going through it for even one person.  This should be pretty interactive, as long as we remember we are looking for simple examples that help us engage with the text.  Scarry provides many of these, but I suspect ours will be just as good.


Time for our third "Study."  The time has been moved to THURSDAY evening by popular demand, and because I have a class in Berkeley on Thursday afternoons.  (Should guarantee being on time:-) 

The reading I've selected to present (you don't need to read it yourself, unless you really want to) is a piece that just knocked me over the first time I read it.  I've read it at least two more times since, as it's rather dense–the most linear of the pieces we've studied so far.  Elaine Scarry is not exactly famous, though this book is very well regarded–particularly for her analysis of torture.  But that portion is quite arduous, and I have decided to start in the middle of book, at a chapter that ties its two halves together, "Pain and Imagining."  A reason for tackling this now is that its ideas reach into many of the themes we have and will discuss, such as Work, Creativity, and Property.   Scarry is our first female author, and also our most contemporary, as this work is from 1985.

Let me point out that discussing "pain" should not be, itself, painful!  This is a scholarly work that, in this chapter, uses everyday examples of pain and pleasure, such as hunger and friendship, placing them on a continuum.

Individuals are expected to benefit from this discussion in several ways:

  • This chapter provides an accessible entry, that perhaps only an English professor could provide, into ideas otherwise found only in difficult works (like Heidegger's).
  • These ideas will be instrumental toward getting us to think in the "creative prospect".
  • Exposure to concentrated thought provides a paradigm for our own thinking, particularly if we can achieve understanding through dialogue only.
  • The small size, and focus, of the group means everybody will be "on the same page," which could be an eye-opening experience.
  • If it goes anything like Bergson on Laughter did, then our exchanges will incorporate contemporary examples in a very satisfying manner, and will segue into a rather nuanced freeform discussion.

The original idea of the format (see bottom of the first Study ) included optional roles besides presenter and listener:  reader, auditor, observer.  I will bring a copy of the book to the meeting.  Let me know if you want fill one of them.  The "critic" will have to wait until after we've made our way through the text, which won't be longer than 75 minutes.  Please do try to answer the RSVP questions:  they are my gauge of whether people understand what we are and are not trying to do.

Thank you, in advance, to the intrepid among you!

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  • Dave

    Someone's fixing my sink that night, but I'll try to be there.

    March 6, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    haven't been to any of these, but as long as i don't get a last minute client i am in for this! looking forward to meeting you all!

    March 6, 2013

  • Marla

    So hoping this headcold won't keep me away... I'm planning to be there!

    March 5, 2013

  • Jeff G

    I recommend that those possibly interested in the Study on Scarry do NOT read The Nation article beforehand, UNLESS they have already read the chapter we will be "reading." The slice of this article that describes Chapter 3 seems to me an accurate summary, but the point of the Study is not just to absorb the point the author is making, but to be exposed to the originality of the argument (something admitted by every review I've seen) by experiencing how it unfolds, by which you might enrich your own reasoning capabilities.

    I, myself, have managed to finish only the one chapter. If I were to hate the rest of the book, I would still love this particular exposition.

    February 27, 2013

    • Jeff G

      This aspect of internet knowledge culture to me seems rather pernicious. It's too easy to use electronic culture to filter out anything we might disagree with. Even if we do read the original sources later, the waters have already been tainted. I do not want to reside in an echo chamber.

      For political argument, I highly recommend the SFDebate group, headed by our regular Deborah Binder, also on Tuesdays, alternating with Philosophy Cafe.

      I know that my interdiction is only going to stoke interest for some of you. In fact, I was fascinated by what I saw as the article's relevance to last night's meeting on Property. More on that later, and elsewhere. If you must, bear in mind that Chapter 3 has NOTHING to do with torture or politics.

      Again, I recommend postponing reading the commentary until we have the Study.

      February 27, 2013

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